By Roya Monajem, Tehran
Photos from Iranian.com: A photographic review of the movie, "Letters from America" by Nazy Kaviani
Letters from Iran and America: Two Documentary Films by Nezam Manoucheri
How fantastic and unbelievable! Finally, an Iranian has made a visual Travel Account, an Epistle about his own country as well as the foreign land of America. It has always been a question why Iranians with the exception of Naser Khosrow in the old past and Hajj Sayyah two centuries ago and perhaps one or two others, never attempted to do that? Such accounts tell more about people, their psychology and life-style than simple histographies which mainly deal with governments and thus are never immune to the political views of the historians. By actually living among people, travelers can portray more genuine ethnographic accounts of the places they visit and thus can bring about better understanding between people. It was by virtue of these Travel Accounts that western artists, thinkers and intellectuals learnt about the 'noble savages' or 'natural men' and were inspired by them after the Renaissance and Iranians can unfold missing parts of their history in them since the rise of western adventurers. What a great happening.
The second instance for joyful astonishment is: Wow! Finally, somebody has dared to portray the everyday life of our social layer, the educated middle class gradually turning to a silent majority as years passed and more people lost their revolutionary utopian dreams and hopes.
Such a vivid representation of that morbid nostalgia for the glorious past increasingly deepening on a daily basis, not only by hearing the news of how all the remaining signs of this prideful past are being deliberately and ignorantly washed away, but actually watching the accelerating course of the replacement of the famous Persian house-gardens, the paradise on earth, by towers and skyscrapers first encountered in postcards, films and movies from the west, particularly America.
The third instance for wow is: Finally, an Iranian has made a sensible attempt to present a realistic criticism of America and the famous American Dream from the eyes of three generations of Iranian-Americans as well as natives and other immigrants. Indeed how inspiring.
The overwhelming feeling while watching these documentaries, took me back to when Kiarostami won Roberto Rossellini's award after the appearance of his Life and Nothing More (1992) which was graded 'b' in the Fajr International film festival of the same year. We have been grown up with the saying: Iranians don't buy Iranian things, with the accompanying question, why? What has happened to us in our long history that in Molavi's words:
The water is just next to us
While we roam around thirsty
The fourth instance of wow is: these films do not deal with the most popular theme of the visual arts since the revolution, which in short is: the oppressed class and their living environment, no matter what may have been the intention of the artist, propaganda or criticism. In Letters from Iran (2006 30 min) we see the typical living milieu of a middle class Iranian intellectual with educated parents l. In other words, no ugly poverty stricken areas, no ghettos, no crowds of women in black chador, no crowds of shouting militant men .... nor does it focus on any other kind of indigenous exoticism, appealing to westerners. Yes we see a scene of the annual mourning of the third Imam known as ashura, but that is a part of our ordinary life, as much as some annual carnival or feast or remembrance ceremony held in other parts of the world makes a common scene of the life of those people. I watch the above ritual through our windows overlooking a street every year if only to see its 'evolutions' since my childhood. It is a couple of years now that school girls carrying a cradle-like coffin are also included in the procession of male mourners! Quite a revolutionary innovation! The trace of clay in the form of human hand on men's shirts is also something new, a good motif for kitsch art.
And yes, there is still another so-called exotic shot in the eyes of foreigners; a woman in black chador apparently walking home in one of the traditional residential areas on the mountain skirts of the north of Tehran. But this too is a very ordinary scene of our everyday life. She seems quite pretty too and I loved the way the actor-narrator looks at her, typically masculine, particularly of the Iranian type! 'Covered, but not concealed' he comments, associating the answer the Afghan singer Boktash Komran gives to the American writer Andrew Solomon recounted in his Art Awakening from the Nightmare of Taliban. In reply to Solomon's question: How can you compose such amorous romantic poems when women are so 'covered and concealed,' Komran says: one can fall in love with even the shoes of a woman; with the way her chador moves in the air... Hard to understand for non-Moslems, I assume.
In short Letters from Iran is a subtle illustration of the ordinary life of the secular intellectual citizens of this country, not much different from those of the other parts of the world rather than the 'civilized terrorists' in love with American consumerist materialistic way of life, stealthily exchanging their Iranian dream for the American one.
Being also an actor, Nezam Manoucheri has made a good selection in choosing himself to play the first role in this true life-story because he did not need to rehearse this role, but knew it by heart. Coming from a genuine aristocratic and constitutionalist family (as we see in the film), he returns to Iran after the revolution for the main reason of bringing up his children in the same culture and in fact in the same house he was brought up in. And the result is: like the overwhelming majority of teenagers and young adults of our country and many others I suppose, they fall in love with the American dream for similar and different reasons. The daughter as she intelligently confesses in Letters from America mainly for the dual life she had to lead as the result of social religious sexual discriminations when in Iran, and the son, more or less for the same reasons, although enjoying more freedoms, but also for the additional reason: what if the West attacks Iran and he would be forced to go to the war-front, the main reasons for considerable emigration of Iranian families abroad since the revolution.
So the father follows them to the wonder land of 'dream-making factory' not only as his fatherly responsibilities demand him, but also to continue his impartial observation as to then what may happen to their dreams.
In fact this is another appreciable feature of these films. Instead of focusing on differences which can provoke conflict, separateness, we and they, I and you, leaving little room for dialogue and discourse, which is our most urgent need not only in our inter-national, but also inter-human relationships, the script-writer-director adopts an impartial approach concentrating more on similarities which can bring about understanding.
From one perspective these films tackle the shared human dilemma in regard to the question of dreams and reality and how we react, respond and adapt ourselves when our dreams turn out to be not what we imagined them.
In the same way that Letters from Iran artistically portrays life here in a decent realistic way, with our revolutionary ideals and dreams falling into pieces in the course of time, in Letters from America we see America represented as the American Dream should appear visually. We see it either in long shots as shown in postcards through roads or across bridges, or visit its famous symbolic urban quarters while listening to the middle class natives and immigrants telling us about their views and their actual life there in between. We sense more or less the same nostalgic feeling and concern expressed by those who had been born in or immigrated to America before the WWII, or in recent years after any upheaval, war and revolution in their own countries and the changes they have witnessed happening to their 'jolly happy' American Dream, as though all agreeing and singing with Bob Dylan: Things have changed.
From Iran to America, there is a World in Between. Where does lie the Bridge of Understanding? Who except visual and literary artists, intellectuals, journalists, in short any responsible human being can bring about a common language between nations under these threatening circumstances when our beautiful blue planet is in danger of being bombarded, this time by nuclear bombs. After all as the protagonist of Letters say: "People don't have problems with each other, it is the governments..." immediately bringing to mind the famous incident of the WWI, when fighting Anglo-German soldiers stepped out of their trenches along the No Man's Land, celebrating the Christmas Eve together, and going back to them the next morning to continue shooting at each other...
How we still can sing with Pink Floyd: Mother do you think they drop the bomb?
Hopefully, Nezam Manoucheri's Letters will be fruitful in bringing about more understanding between the nations and through them between the governments.
Nezam Manouchehri is a filmmaker, writer, photographer and actor. His film "Letters from Iran" 2004, a 30 minute documentary which he wrote, directed and produced has been previewed in Barcelona's prestigious cultural centre, with a magnificent review in the Spanish daily, El Pais and it had its world premier at the 2005 Los Angeles Film Festival. It was an official selection of Asiatica Mediale Film Festival in Rome with an extensive review in the Italian daily Il Manifesto. He has played in a number of films including the award wining film 'Deserted Station'. His last film "A World Between" a sixty minutes documentary on Iran as seen through the eyes of a young Iranian American has been shown on Link TV to a nationwide audience of over ten million and on BBC Persian to even a larger audience. His latest film 'Letters from America' a feature doc shot in America's two coasts is the recipient of silver medal from the International Philadelphia Film Festival and an official selection of Brussels Film Festival and will be released shortly. Nezam is an alumni of San Francisco Art Institute and has received his Masters in the Arts from San Francisco State University. His writing and translations have appeared in Geo and Guardian. His book 'Treasure in Ruins' is scheduled for publication Dec 2010.
For more info: www.paradisa.org
Letters from Iran 33 min writer
director producer 2004
A World Between 56 min writer director producer 2006
Letters from America 82 min writer director producer 2009
View clips of Nezam Manouchehri's films about Iran / America:
Letters from Iran: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cCFElZFQlzE
A World Between
A photographic review of the movie, "Letters from America"
By ;Nazy Kaviani, Iranian.com
For more info on Nezam Manouchehri go to: www.paradisa.org
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